When ‘Srugim’ takes on New York City

Filmmaker Leah Gottfried has created a new Web series about Orthodox Jewish dating in Manhattan.

THE RIGHT Sarah and the wrong Sarah – or is it the other way around? (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE RIGHT Sarah and the wrong Sarah – or is it the other way around?
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbinical student David dashes through the streets of Manhattan, late for a blind date with Sarah – after a train delay and an unfortunate incident with a dog.
He arrives at the restaurant out of breath and sits down, apologizing to the forgiving artist Sarah.
The two immediately hit it off. The only problem? David is sitting with the wrong Sarah.
Such is the premise of The Setup – a short film that also serves as the pilot episode of a new web series Soon By You – the brainchild of filmmaker Leah Gottfried.
The Los Angeles native who now lives in New York said that around two years ago, “I was binge-watching Srugim” – the Israeli TV show about the dating life of national-religious Jews in Jerusalem – “and it’s such a fun show but I felt like I would love to see characters like this in New York.”
Thus Soon By You was born, following the lives of six young Orthodox Jews living and dating in Manhattan.
Back in the restaurant, David finds the “right” Sarah – a whiny, self-involved woman played to perfection by Gottfried – and Sarah’s date Ben arrives – an awkward, condescending buffoon. David and Sarah suffer through their respective dates, managing to catch fleeting moments to interact in the back of the restaurant, before departing with their original matches.
In creating the series, Gottfried said she drew on her own experiences as well as stories from friends about the trials and tribulations of the Orthodox dating world.
“The past few months I’ve really been completely focused on this project and it’s a lot of what I talk about – and a couple of times a guy has said ‘OK but you know but you can’t write about me,’” she said. “But I make no promises at all... sometimes I’ll just date for research,” she added with a laugh. “But I definitely take notes wherever I go now.”
The experiences in The Setup, she said, “came from my worst nightmare date – which would be with Ben, and the opposite of that, a really great date, which would be with David.”
That original episode was filmed close to a year ago, and Gottfried submitted it to a variety of festivals as a short film. It won Best Short at the Washington Jewish Film Festival in March and is screening at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival on May 22. But last week, the pilot of Soon By You – a phrase many Jews use to wish each other success in dating – was uploaded to YouTube, where it got more than 20,000 views in the first week it was online.
“Most of the feedback is people saying they want to see episode two, which is great,” said Gottfried. “People are also commenting how much they love it and how relatable it is and also really discussing the characters – which is great because it shows they’re really invested in it.”
Like Srugim did, Gottfried said she wants Soon By You to “portray different kinds of Modern Orthodox Jews.”
“A lot of people assume we’re all the same, but we really want to show people on different sides of the spectrum – within Judaism in general and specifically within Modern Orthodoxy,” she said. “As the series continues, we’ll see how the characters have different practices – they’re not all observing in the same way; they have different struggles, their families are different and their dynamics are different.”
The decision to make the affable David, played by Danny Hoffman, a rabbi, was a very conscious choice, said Gottfried.
“In the media, rabbis are these old, bearded kind of people and we wanted to show a different side of it – something new that people haven’t really thought of before,” she said. “Here’s a young guy, and he’s not typically what people think of when you think the word rabbi. I think there’s a lot we can play with him exploring his position.”
While the cast is made up largely of Modern Orthodox Jews, the artist Sarah is played by Sara Scur, a Seventh Day Adventist who was drawn to the project in part because it would allow her to observe Shabbat.
The second episode has already been filmed, said Gottfried, and is being edited in time to be released in about a month. Overall five episodes have been planned out, and the timing hinges largely on funding; the show has partnered with the non-profit JENLA (Jewish Entertainment Network-Los Angeles) to make all donations tax deductible.
Gottfried, Hoffman and Jessica Schechter, who all co-produce and star in the show, filmed a separate YouTube video explaining the premise for the show and appealing for donations.
“Think ‘Friends’ but with Jews,” said Hoffman. “Ross and Monica were Jewish,” Schechter chimed in. “OK,” added Hoffman, “think ‘Friends’ but with more Jews.”